The Cycle of Crowns

I spend a lot of time driving, and have enjoyed road trips with friends since I first found out what a delight they were on annual trips to retreats and other activities with my youth group. As we got older, the vehicle of choice changed from busses and giant vans to cars, which allowed for smaller groups and wonderful bonding! One of my favorite things to do on road trips is play a game previously titled “The iPod Game,” and more recently conned, “So You Think You’re a Hipster,” or more affectionately, “SYTYAH.”

The premise of this game is that we play songs that we know that we assume are not very well known to the others in the car. (Basically, you get points for every person in the car who does not know the song that you chose to play.) This game has introduced me to some really great bands and artists and motivates me all the more to find new artists and share them with others. At some point my friends and I started ruining our chances at winning the game and just shared new artists with one another. My friend Emily, for instance, told me about a British band this summer and I have not been able to stop listening to them.

What’s particularly engaging about this band is that while I’m fairly certain they are not a Christian group, they make a lot of solid observations about the world around them. Their songs are far less about love and loss than about just noting the human condition and one such song actually worked its way into my devotional time. (Isn’t it wonderful how God uses us for good even when we’re ignoring His existence?!)

I’m currently reading through Genesis, which I actually think in some ways is more challenging to my faith than Revelation is (that may be a later post). Because of this additional level of thought and meditation, I’ve been going through passages more slowly and referring to commentaries more. In any case, I’ve been poking my way through the story of Jacob’s dysfunctional family and I arrived at the following genealogy:

“These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites. Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom, the name of his city being Dinhabah. Bela died, and Jobab the son of Zerah of Bozrah reigned in his place. Jobab died, and Husham of the land of the Temanites reigned in his place. Husham died, and Hadad the son of Bedad, who defeated Midian in the country of Moab, reigned in his place, the name of his city being Avith. Hadad died, and Samlah of Masrekah reigned in his place. Samlah died, and Shaul of Rehoboth on the Euphrates reigned in his place. Shaul died, and Baal-hanan the son of Achbor reigned in his place. Baal-hanan the son of Achbor died, and Hadar reigned in his place, the name of his city being Pau; his wife’s name was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.” 

 

– Genesis 36:31-39

It all seems very unexciting unless you were Jobab’s best friend and got really excited when his name came up, but that seems unlikely for those of us who were born thousands of years later. The reason this seemingly mundane passage resonated with me was because it brought to mind lyrics from Bastille’s “Daniel in the Den.” “And you thought the lions were bad, well, they tried to kill my brothers,” lead singer Dan Smith begins, “and for every king that died, oh, they will crown another.”

For every king that died, they will crown another. We don’t get to hear the stories of all of the kings described here, but we see elsewhere in the Old Testament that getting a new king could be a really amazing thing or a really horrible thing for Israel. Sometimes a really horrible king would die, and they’d crown another with joy. As was the case with my treasured psalmist Asaph, “they crowned another” king during his time as worship leader and the new king was not nearly as godly as his predecessor. I love Asaph’s psalms because they are his crying out in the midst of this unfortunate change. But in either event, the crowning of a new king is significant and literally life-changing, but also very temporary. As “Daniel in the Den” echoed through my head, I wondered what would happen if the cycle broke.

What would happen if they didn’t crown another king?

What would happen if every king didn’t die?

What would happen if a king succumb to death and was so good, just, and set apart that there was no better option?

Then I was pretty thankful that that is just the case.

Revelation 5 always blows me away because it is such a blatant reminder that the situation posed in that last question is a very real one. In the situation described there, everyone is literally in tears because they can’t find anyone to open the scroll with seven seals. They searched the earth and literally no one was worthy or able. But then, the author writes, “one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals. And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain… And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne. And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Then an awesome (in the most literal sense of the word) amount of singing ensues as they all worship the King who defeated death. I’d like to take a minute to backtrack and point out that all that the Lamb has done at this point is literally to take the scroll. He just has it in His hands. He hasn’t opened it, He hasn’t read it; He took it.

This tells me two main things: 1.) The Lamb who was slain is dead no longer, and 2.) He is a powerful, perfect, worthy King to be trusted.

I serve a God who is surely alive, and I have no desire to crown another.

Nothing Left for You to Take Away

It’s one of those interview questions that you always prepare for: What are your strengths and weaknesses? We can usually quickly identify one or the other, and depending on who is asking and how much you’re trying to impress them, try to disguise weaknesses as strengths. For example: “I am a hard worker, I enjoy challenges, and I am rather meticulous. On the other hand, sometimes I put too much heart into my work and am too much of a perfectionist.” We want everything to be strengths, and we want them to be counted as ours. It won’t help me terribly much in a job interview if I talk about how my sister, who is not going to be doing my job for me, is very organized and a good leader. Those are strengths, but they’re not counted as mine.

The trouble comes when we’re asked to give up those strengths. I thought I had already done this- I have talked often about finding my identity first and foremost in Christ, and not in any of the adjectives that fall before my belonging to Him. I’d rather proclaim myself as a female, grad-student, book-loving Christian than a Christian girl, Christian grad student, or Christian book-lover. A good test of whether you hold onto something perhaps a bit too tightly is how upset you are when someone tries to take it from you. If someone marched up to me and said, “Marissa, you are NO GOOD at aerospace engineering,” I would not be much offended. I don’t claim that even slightly and am quite happy sitting back and watching other people be amazing at it instead. If someone said something like “Marissa, you are a TERRIBLE writer,” things might start to crumble a little more. Even worse, “Marissa, you are NOT good at school.” This would be a bit of a blow.

This is incredibly nerdy, but I claim academics as mine. By the time I’m through with this Ph.D. program, I’ll have spent more than two decades as a student, and loving a good bit of it! I am someone who fought for five more rigorous years of school. I enjoy doing literature reviews and fixing grammar mistakes. A love of learning is something that I’m pretty sure I was born with, that my parents worked to nourish (we spent lots of time at the library), and that I at some point subconsciously claimed as mine. In Philippians 3, Paul lists off a bunch of things that would be really impressive to his readers: “circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” My equivalent of this list would be a bunch of nerdy things about school. But after Paul gives his list, he says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

A lot of good things (maybe not so much the whole persecuting the church situation, but the redirection of the zeal behind that, perhaps!) and productive things came out of Paul’s list, but that is not where he finds his value. Not only that, but he finds worth instead in knowing Christ as his Lord. He counted his earthly gain as loss “in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes form the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ.”

As Switchfoot (a band which, through how much I have referenced them on this blog, I have realized is one of my top three favorite bands) says in their song “Hello Hurricane,”

“Everything I have I count as loss

Everything I have is stripped away

Before I started building, I counted up these costs

As nothing left for you to take away.”

If someone tells me that anything other than Christ that I value is flawed, it shouldn’t shake me to my core. I might want to put some effort into improving it for His glory, but that’s just it- it should be for His glory, not mine. Honestly, when I start to feel like I’m not doing as well as I think I can or should in school, I don’t think, “Man, I am really not giving this my greatest effort and making the most of this opportunity to glorify God!” It’s something more like, “I am so much better than this, and it’s not being recognized. If I’m not good at this this, what am I?!” followed by some panicked pacing. This extends beyond my nerdiness and might apply to others in different ways- perhaps in wanting to be a good (or the best) friend, parent, spouse, runner, aerospace engineer, baker, employee, or any number of things.

God is constantly needing to forgive and reshape me in this. He sent His Son to earth so that we could have a personal relationship in which I am forgiven for all of my brokenness and to be able to strive toward the true perfection that I will never reach on my own. Even if I somehow became the perfect student- by whose standards am I perfect? From what I’ve gathered, God is the only perfect one, so if I’m going by someone else’s imperfect standards, I haven’t really worked toward anything worthwhile. (Note: C.S. Lewis does a beautiful breakdown of differing moral codes/the whole idea of “right and wrong” and why God’s is logically the “right” one. As he does this over the course of a great many pages in Mere Christianity, so I’ll just refer you to that incredible book. I think Lewis is a great writer. This is somewhat useless in the grand scheme of things unless the Greatest Writer agrees with me. See my carrying on above.)

I am so glad that God has given me relative strengths. I am better at spending my spare time reading than I am at playing video games (I’m quite bad at anything that doesn’t involve dancing). I am better at singing music than I am at writing it. This is only the case because God has been so gracious as to give me skills in these areas. They certainly contribute to my personality, but they do not define me at my core. The God who loves me more than any human being, including myself, has defined me. He has called me His. Everything I am needs to be built on that foundation. He’s not going anywhere, so there is nothing left for you to take away.

I’m praying that God will use whatever He gives me, whether it be a love of learning, a love of people, or a skill in any area, and that He will use it for His eternal glory, not my fading glory. I also ever so tentatively lift up my crumbly definitions of myself and ask that He would replace them with His perfect one that opens me up to so much more.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,” even regarding my schoolwork, my relationships, and my sub-par very best in everything, “according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, emphasis added.)

If Not, It’s Useless. IF.

I would be remiss if I just let Easter slip on by without saying a word about it. As I have written before, the precious day that we celebrated last Sunday is one of the biggest in terms of importance to the Christian faith. I think Paul breaks down the importance of Christ not only coming and dying for us, but also being raised again in 1 Corinthians 15, where he says (emphasis added):

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”

I’ve included the English Standard Version here, but the New International Version hits even harder in the first sentence: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Talk about taking the focus off of me. Without Christ having raised from the dead, becoming the Victor over death and showing His power, my faith is nothing, and the hope of the goal that I am constantly talking about pressing on toward is nothing. So Hallelujah! He is risen!!

Too often I forget, or fail to live out, how big of a deal this is. I am challenged by these words in Hebrews 2:3-4: “How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced but he Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.”

So basically, this is truth. This is life-changing, life-saving  truth. And I am richly blessed just to know it. How much more blessed will I be, and will God be glorified, when I acknowledge His truths in more than just my head?

To read more about Easter and how it’s absolutely a big deal, you can read last year’s blog post here. And for the whole story of the Gospel (the good news), see the Bible! =) But you can also check out a much-abridged version here.

Psalm 73

Well, my body decided that operating properly wasn’t as much fun as taking me entirely out of the lineup for a day or two. Since an attempt at writing a full post would likely be full of incoherent and incomplete sentences, I’d instead like to share one of my favorite Psalms with you. (This one is up there with my love for Philippians 3. That is to say, I quote it constantly and am a big fan.) It’s written by Asaph, a psalmist who it seems saw some of the best and the worst of Israel, and with whom I think it is easy to identify as Christians looking out at a miserably broken world. Here he speaks openly about struggling to trust God as the wicked seem to prosper and seeking Him even in the midst of the brokenness around him and within himself.

My favorite verses come at the end, and frequently form a prayer of mine:

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.

But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.

Do you ever “pray the Psalms” or other parts of the Bible? What verses are constantly on your mind and lips? I’d love to hear them!

Psalm 73:

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart. 

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.

For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.

They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.

Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.

Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.

They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.

They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.

Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.

And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.

All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.

For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.

If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,

until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.

How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!

Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.

When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,

I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.

But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Knowledge for Action

The things that have gotten me through the last few days include, but are not limited to:

1.) My amazing cohort

2.) Cheery phone calls home to family and friends

3.) Motivational penguin

4.) Pictures of kittens

5.) the Word of God.

I keep a little list titled “Walk with Christ Passages.”  It’s sort of like my QuoteBook (which contains absolutely hilarious or particularly poignant gems from different conversations that I’ve had, TV shows, etc.), but it’s exclusively passages from the Bible that have been convicting or excellent reminders of important truths.

One that I reread today I labeled “Perspective.”

Perspective

1 John 2:16-17, 20-21 ESV

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

Here’s my little summary of the main points from this time around:

– “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” are a) not from God and b) not permanent

– the will of God, and those who do it, are here for good (in both the sense of good vs. bad and eternal permanence)

– those of us with the Holy Spirit have a knowledge that we need to be actively embracing and using

These things seem pretty basic, but I seem to forget them, or at least fail to employ them, constantly. “The desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions”- that sure covers a lot.  It probably covers most of what I spend my time doing and thinking about. It covers what I’ve decided I want for my life. It covers the adorable, but frighteningly-priced $200 dresses that I see on Pinterest. It covers my cravings for take-out and chocolate when I’m starting to get stressed out. And yet, these are the things that are frail and are passing away.  Why, oh why do we lean on the frail things when we have a strong, holy and perfect God who isn’t going anywhere? I’m supposing it has something to do with the brokenness that introduces these distracting desires, but the passage reminds us that broken is not all that we are.

We have the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit and the knowledge that we are frail and these desires are frail. That is a gift in and of itself. If you don’t know that it can be harmful to spend hours and hours under the blazing sun without sunscreen, you won’t take precautionary steps. You won’t change, and you therefore won’t get better, but rather continually worse. But we have this knowledge- and we can and should use it!  I love the wording here- “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it.” For all that we don’t know about what’s happening tomorrow and what some of the significance of what happened today or yesterday may be, we know the truth and we can therefore discern what the lies are. We can tell that something is a little wrong with the cracking branch we’re putting all of our weight on, and then we can turn with confidence to what is surely right.

True Talk: I’ve felt a little bit like I’m at the beginning of a marathon with all of the busyness going on in my own life and around me right now, but this isn’t even the main marathon that I’m running. This is a jog halfway down the block that coincides with the race that I’m running to and for Christ- a race where I live according to His will and for His glory and can’t help but bask in the perfection of both.  This is a journey where my love for Christ and the people around me needs to radiate more than my love for my research interests or theory for practice.

I get really excited when I hear songs on the radio that have a unique sound and are still sharing the truths of the Gospel and Christian life. One such song is “Oh How I Need You,” by All Sons and Daughters. As they sing,

“Lord, I find you in the morning

Lord, I seek you every day

Let my life be for Your glory

Woven in Your threads of grace.”

I love this stanza. I find God in the morning whether I want to or not. I wake up breathing, mentally functioning, and excited about different things. I discern and reflect.  I seek Him whether I want to or not- I think that we all do. (C.S. Lewis worded it famously and excellently when he said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”). And I pray that God will use me for His glory. I’m so thankful that He reminds me again and again that I know the truth. Through His grace and His love, I know the truth. I’m praying that He will continue to turn each of us more and more towards knowledge and towards action.

Break it Down!

Now, normally, if I’m yelling “break it down!” the beat is probably just about to drop (either for real or in some song in my head) and it’s time to dance!  But God recently reminded me of another, rather different way of breaking it down.

As a freshman, I had a really hard time.  I’ve learned so much since then and sometimes forget how little me struggled so with God’s will being so different from what she intended, with finding her classes on what is admittedly a rather large (but wonderful!) campus, and with being simply exhausted at the end of the day, physically and emotionally.

At the end of one particularly trying week, I collapsed onto my bed, opened my Bible, and randomly found Psalm 25.  I hadn’t been looking for it, but God had been looking out for me, and it was just the cry of my heart at the moment.  But I did something unusual for me then that I would like to do more of now- I didn’t just read it.  I wrote it down and intermingled my prayer with it.  I broke it down, sometimes phrase by phrase, or verse by verse, and used it to help me pour my heart out to God.  I added my little comments in parentheses amidst the chapter and they ranged from simply reiterating the bit of Scripture just before, singing a little part of a hymn, to praying to my Savior.  I’ve put my “Psalm 25 Breakdown” below with a few edits.

~

“To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul (It’s in a lot of pain, God.  I’m just tired.); in You I trust, O my God (it was You that sent me here, wasn’t it?  I still can’t really see why, God.  But I’ll have to trust You.)  Do not let me be put to shame (as I wander helplessly about campus) nor let my enemies (those creepy attackers and taker-advantage-of’ers I’m so cautious of) triumph over me.  No one whose hope (my life is in You Lord, my strength is in You, Lord, my hope is in You Lord, in You, it’s in You) is in You will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.  Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long.  (All day, Lord.  In the morning where I wake up sticky, sweaty, and panicked [I had been waking up every morning panicked that I had missed all of my alarms and slept too late in my unconditioned dorm room]; during the day when my legs ache; at night, like now- when I’m hurting.)  Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.  Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.  Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways.  He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them the way (I’m pretty much a mess right now, God.  Please show me the way.  Keep me open to Your will.).  All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful (hallelujah) for those who keep the demands of His covenant.  For the sake of Your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great (I mess up a lot).  Who, then is the man that fears the Lord.  He will instruct him in the way chosen for him (You chose this route, God.  Help me to stay on it and follow Your instructions).  He will spend his days in prosperity and his descendants will inherit the land.  The Lord confides in those who fear Him; He makes His covenant known to them.  My eyes are ever on the Lord (He stays consistent and is always there for me and will always know what’s ahead), for only He will release my feet from the snare (amen).  Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted (wow, that sounds familiar).  The troubles of my heart have multiplied (hence the sadness); free me from my anguish (please!).  Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins (it’s not just the world that’s messing me up- my own disorganization and forgetfulness are dragging me down, too).  See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me!  Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in You.  May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in You.  Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles!”

~

What a blessing it is that we have God’s Word, and that He knows exactly when we need exactly which parts of it to touch and motivate our hearts.  I’m so glad that I wrote this all down.  Looking back at it now, I can see that God has answered so many of those prayers and it’s encouraging to see how He’s taken me through that difficult time, among others in my life, and how faithful He has been.  I am confident that He continues to be good.

Is there a passage that you want or need to break down to help build you up?  (Sorry to be a bit cliche there!)  This is something that I might challenge myself to do again, even when it’s not driven by frustration and emotion.  It’s so incredible to be able to read God’s words to us and to express our hearts right back to Him.  Hosanna!  Praise the Lord!

Snippets: 1 Corinthians Version

I’ve been meandering my way through the letters to the Corinthians and though I’ve had a rather busy day, I wanted to dedicate this post to some of my favorites passages for this.  I’m going to have to manage my time a bit better in order to write better posts, but two have been in the making for several weeks, so get excited for those! =P

In the meanwhile, however, please enjoy these selections.  And if you’re reading through a book of the Bible right now that’s got favorite passages that jump out at you, please share them!  Rereading these different chapters has brought to my attention so many surprising and enjoyable little passages that I want to keep in mind much more frequently- it’s my prayer that the same might be true for you with passages you find.  Enjoy!  (The last one is a favorite little find.)

 

Chapter 6, Verses 12-13: ‘Everything is permissible for me’ -but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ -but I will not be mastered by anything.

Chapter 7, Verse 34b: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.

Chapter 9, Verse 24: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Chapter 11, Verses 23-26: For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

 Chapter 15, Verses 40-41: There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.  The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.